An Impossible Nuzzle

August 29, 2015 § Leave a comment

Nearly every person that comes to our ranch has a connection with one particular horse. They fall in love with all of them, naturally, but there is usually one with whom they share a powerful bond.

Before I started volunteering at Tierra Madre, I used to think that everybody chose their “favorite” horse based on simple things, like something cute the horse did, the way the horse looked, or simply because it was the first horse that person happened to know.

Now I realize that they – the horses – are the ones who choose the people.

Even if neither party realizes it at the time.

I was 17 when I first started at Tierra Madre. At the time, I was coming out of a dark depression. I regularly confronted many, many mental and spiritual demons. And I dealt with these problems by pushing them deep, deep down into my subconscious and proceeding like nothing was wrong, by pushing everyone away from me as far as I could.

Jim – the owner and founder at the ranch and my current boss – took me around and introduced me to all the horses. Just like I now joyously watch visitors interacting with each one, he witnessed me falling in love with them all. The horses were so different. They had such personalities. I’d learned to ride at a place where horses were punished (not cruelly by any means, but punished nonetheless) for being different, for acting outside what was considered normal for a horse. Here, the ranch thrived on uniqueness.

To end our tour, Jim took me over to the very last horse at the end of the long row of stalls. He was a big, stunning palomino with light brown eyes. Something in the Earth shifted when I looked at him. I think my breath seriously caught in my throat as our eyes locked.

Picture taken a month after knowing Chance - June 2009

Picture taken after a month of knowing Chance – June 2009

“That’s Chance,” Jim told me as I gazed and gazed at the horse, “and he’s only been here three months. Don’t get anywhere near him. He’s been badly abused and he’ll nail you.”

He didn’t need to tell me twice. When I first laid eyes on Chance, his ears were pinned to his skull. He was pawing angrily at the ground. His eyes were burning. And he had his head thrown up over the bars of his stall, clearly ready to send anyone who got near him to their deathbed.

And all I ever wanted to do from that moment on for every day I was there was just be near him. To sit outside his stall – a safe distance away – and just look at him.

And every single day I was at the ranch for five straight years, that’s exactly what I did.

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The summer I began at Tierra Madre, I was tasked with putting on all the horses’ NoFly every morning. I first interacted with Chance by spraying his face through the bars of his stall. Then I moved up to offering him my hand just close enough so that he could sniff it. Then I started offering him leaves. And all the while, I’d just talk to him.

I never went in his stall. I never touched him more than grazing his lip with my finger. I never attempted to go put a halter on him and walk him out to the arena. I never set out with anything to prove.

All I wanted to do was to play a small part in his healing process, to show Chance what love was. Because for the first four years of his life, he didn’t know what it was. He was kept in a prison of a stall with no windows, fed every three or four days, and through the bars of his stall some really awful, horrific abuse must have taken place, because six years after he walked through Tierra Madre’s gates, he still lunges at anybody on the other side of his gate.

Going inside the stall with him is a whole other story. He might be fearful and defensive with a gate in between himself and a human, but he’s come to understand that whenever someone he knows comes into his stall with a halter, it means he gets to go out to the arena to play.

And one day last year, when I was in the process of taking over the ranch when the amazing lady running it was about to go on maternity leave, I looked over at Chance and thought to myself, “I need to be able to walk him. If I’m going to be in charge, I can’t rely on my boss or our other worker to handle him.”

It’d been five years. He knew me. I knew him. It was time.

So I gathered every ounce of my courage, grabbed a halter, and walked into his stall.

He looked confused for only a second. Then, after hearing me talk cheerfully, just like I’d talked to him for five years, he came up to me, studied me, and turned his head.

“You’re doing this now? Okay,” was his response, and I could have sworn he almost shrugged. “Just be quick about it. I don’t have all day.”

November 2014 - figuring it out!

November 2014 – figuring it out!

And with hands trembling only slightly, I got his halter on and away we walked. I still remember the two of us being jumpy with each other as we learned how to walk together those first few weeks. But over the course of a year, we’ve figured out a system. And we do things the same way every single time. In fact, there are only two other people who can enter Chance’s stall, and all three of us do things the same way for him every time. Chance likes consistency. He likes knowing exactly what’s going to happen each time, and after living four years of hell when the unknown happened every day, I can’t say I blame him.

Six years after I laid eyes on him – a horse so badly abused he was completely unapproachable – we walk calmly together. And don’t get me wrong. I get nervous every now and then. But most of the time? It’s magic.

The other day though, it didn’t start out that way.

Chance is part of the ‘Chance Crew’ – a big group of horses obviously named for him that goes out into the arena together. There’s seven of them altogether, and they’re wild when they go out. They are so full of energy and have a great time, sometimes at our expense.

There’s one horse who’s apart of the gang called Cadence, except we never call her by her real name. To us, she’s Tater Tot, or Tater, because she’s a big, stocky Quarter horse. She likes to be taken home first, and she’s not afraid of letting us know.

Usually when the Chance crew goes home, I try to take Chance home first so the rest of the volunteers – who can’t get near him – can start taking the other horses home. And every time before we go home, we make a stop at the treat can. All part of consistency.

This past Wednesday, when I went to get Chance, Tater was not having any of it and went after him a few times as I tried to halter him first. At one point, Chance took off with the halter on and the lead rope flew behind him as Tater tore ass across the arena to get him away so she could go home first. And the more they ran, the higher my stress level became.

It is very, very important to me that things go smoothly when taking Chance out of his stall and putting him back home, because otherwise he has the potential to become nervous. And a nervous Chance always made me nervous. And the moment I wasn’t confident, he’d pick up on my anxiety and potentially make me his sixth victim to end up in the hospital.

So when Chance and I ran out of the arena at top speed just as the other horses were starting to get riled up and Tater proved to everyone once and for all she was pissed she hadn’t gotten her way, my nerves were up. It doesn’t help that I’m moving next week and at the time was thinking about packing while also thinking about, oh, ten million other things I had to do before leaving the ranch that day and planning the office work for that afternoon and why did Tater have to be so difficult and are Chance’s ears back? God, I hope not.

I let Chance eat at the treat can as per usual while I was silently running over the craziness of the past few minutes in my head and taking deep breaths. Getting nervous or mad while taking Chance home was a setup for disaster.

Eventually we started to walk back to his stall and I tried to calm myself down.

And then, as we walked, out of nowhere, I felt his nose gently – so gently – touch my side. And for a brief moment right after, he pressed his whole head up against me.

I almost dropped the lead rope in astonishment.

“Hey,” came his thoughts softly, merging with mine. “It’s okay, Lex. Don’t worry. That stuff that happened back there. Don’t worry about it. I trust you.”

I trust you.

I trust you.

Summer 2014

Summer 2014

I felt the words radiating from the depths of his soul. I had to close my eyes briefly as the tears rushed into them and all the anxiety that had stirred within me completely and utterly melted away.

And after he was back in his stall and I had taken his halter off and I moved to leave, I paused at his gate instead of latching it right away and just looked at him. Just as I had for all those years.

He was still munching quietly from the treats from the treat can, but he gave me a polite glance nonetheless.

“Oh, my brother,” I whispered to him and his ears perked to hear what I had to say, “I trust you, too.”

I meet people every now and then who come to our ranch, meet Chance, and loudly declare that they are going to win his trust. That they’ll fix them. They’ll save him. That they’ll turn him into a gentle beast in no time and you just watch – are you watching? Watch me cure him.

Their egos are bigger than the sky. And Chance and I both see through them each and every time.

They’re never in it for Chance. They’re in it to prove something to themselves or everyone else around them – usually the latter.

But to some degree, when I first interacted with Chance, maybe I, too, was trying to “save” him in a way.

I wanted him to know it was okay.

I wanted him to know that sometimes the world can chew you up and spit you out, but that doesn’t mean it only consists of horror and darkness.

I wanted him to know that sometimes it only feels natural and safe to put walls up and shut everyone out, but that in the end, there are far more people in life waiting to love you than hurt you.

I wanted him to know that it takes as much time as it takes to recover from abuse.

I wanted him to know that it was far better to live to see each day than end it all.

I wanted him to know that every baby step, every little bit of progress that he made, was something to be proud of.

I wanted him to know that no matter what he did and what he’d been through, his past did not reflect who he was. That he was a unique individual who deserved to love and to be loved in return.

And the more I spent time with him, the more I came to realize I wasn’t just telling him all these things.

I was telling every single word to myself.

When I laid eyes on him on that very first day, I truly believe that Chance chose me, even though neither of us realized it at the time, and not necessarily for his sake.

I don’t know how big of a part I’ve played in Chance’s recovery. I don’t know how much I have healed his heart.

But I do know that over the course of six years, from the day we met and he wanted nothing to do with me to the brief moment in time just the other day when he pressed his head up against me in absolute trust, he has completely and utterly healed mine.

My favorite picture of us

My favorite picture of us

**********

Pst…. while I have you here, you can help Tierra Madre Horse Sanctuary celebrate its 11th birthday! That’s right, horse ranches can have birthdays, and this September we’re turning 11.

During our 11 years of operation, Tierra Madre has given health, happiness, and hope to over 50 horses. Horses that were abused or neglected or injured or abandoned found a forever home within our gates, Chance included.

Today we are able to continue our mission for 33 of the most incredible horses Mother Earth has ever seen.

Help us celebrate our 11th birthday by giving our horses what they like best: HAY! For our herd, we want to buy not one but TWO squeezes of alfalfa.

One squeeze of alfalfa (roughly 80 bales) is just shy of $1200. Two squeezes will total $2400. And because it is our birthday, after all, we want to spend another $100 on treats, apples, and carrots for our 33 kids.

So our birthday goal? $2500.

In honor of our 11th birthday, will you contribute $11 today toward our goal?

Remember, all donations to our 501(c)(3) organization are tax-deductible. Click HERE to donate. Under “I would like to designate this donation to a specific fund,” you will see the option “11th Birthday Hay Fund.”

From all of at here at Tierra Madre, thank you for 11 amazing years of support!

Love the two-leggeds AND Solo & Suze & Bentley & Kiss & the Min & M’Stor & River & Studley & Chance & Sweet Boy & Sedona & Nibzie & Rusty & Hollywood & Cadence & Guess & Bella & Hudson & Heighten & Jani & Buddy & the Iron Man & Slayer & Bourbon & Spencer & Wild Bill & Jazz & Chiquita & Sonora & Danny & Chianti & Rain & Sunny.happybirthdaytierramadre

It’s Okay to Not Know

June 15, 2015 § 1 Comment

[Picture is of Sunny after her first painting. She doesn’t have a plan set in stone for her life, either!]

I’m pretty sure I came out of the womb having a plan for my life.

I might even say I know I did.

When I was twelve hours old, the doctors brought me to my parents and told them I had a beta strep infection that – back in 1991 – killed something like 98% of all babies that developed it within 24 hours of birth. I was not expected to live.

Ten days of care from the incredible doctors at Phoenix Children’s Hospital, many prayers from all my family, and some fierce fighting later, my parents brought me home from the NICU.

I had a plan for my life. I had no idea what it was when I was a newborn, and as I sit here and write this close to 24 years after, I have no idea what it is now.

And I think for the first time, I’m realizing that it’s okay not to know.

Tonight, I dropped all my classes for my master’s degree.

I keep looking at that sentence and feeling such contentment.

It’s not all that interesting how it happened. On June 1st, after a three-week break from classes, I was due to start back up again. It was a Monday and by the time I logged in to my online NAU account and downloaded the syllabi for my two courses, it was 7 pm and I’d worked something like a nine-hour day. Half of that was spent in 95 degree weather at the ranch.

I started to read the syllabi for my classes that night. I don’t even remember what they were. One had something to do with classroom instruction analysis.

And as I read, my heart sunk as a I realized that the classes a) required me to already be teaching in a classroom, and b) sounded more boring than all the math classes I was forced to take for my undergraduate degree.

I dropped them. Right there on the spot. And tonight, I dropped the other two summer courses I was due to take starting in July.

Working as the ranch director of Tierra Madre Horse Sanctuary has sharpened my love for education. Every day I teach new visitors or volunteers something. I love showing people who have never touched a horse before how to approach them. I love showing them they don’t have to be afraid. I love giving riding lessons and I love sharing advice with my veteran volunteers (and receiving it in turn).

My love of teaching doesn’t mean I need to get a degree in education.

In fact, the more I looked at my program of choice, the more I realized it was more appropriate for classroom teachers looking to move up to the role of administrator. Not for someone who potentially wanted to encourage more sustainability initiatives be put into curriculum.

After feeling relief upon dropping my classes, I know it was the right thing to do.

I’ve always had a plan for my life. Ever since I was four, I was going to be an author. (This one I did accomplish!) In high school, I thought I was going to go into theatre for a while. Then I was going to study liberal arts. Then I was going to be a journalist. No, an activist writer. No, a part of government. No, a part of the American University School of International Service. Then I was going to be an international peacemaker. A policy maker. Then I was going to go into public administration. Then the USGBC. Then a teacher. No, then education policy. Sustainability policy. A curriculum developer.

All those plans were either bitterly crushed or I moved away from them because I realized the path was not mine to take. Being a part of government or policy or international relations might have seemed like my calling at the time. But in the long run, they just didn’t speak to me.

Tonight, I requested information from ASU about their masters program in nonprofit management. I love my job and I know I have worlds more to learn about running a nonprofit organization. And ever since Sunny was born, I have daydreamed about founding and running a Premarin mare and foal sanctuary or rescue. I’m thinking pretty hard about that one.

My point? Right now, I have no plan. My plan is simply to not have a plan. I intend to take whatever is thrown at me and accept what comes of my future application to ASU’s nonprofit management program. I intend to take whatever is thrown at me in general.

Right now my boyfriend and I are not sure where we’re going to be living when our lease is up in August. Due to him recently quitting his soul-sucking job, we aren’t even sure if we’re going to be living together come August (which, ironically, will bring our five-year anniversary).

Someone up there really decided to make this whole not-having-a-plan thing interesting. And what’s amazing is that I feel no stress or anxiety over either situation.

I’m simply taking each day as it comes.

Because in the end, you don’t choose your purpose in life. Your purpose chooses you. And when you trust that everything happens for a reason when it’s supposed to, that purpose shines through.

Do I know that for sure? Hell, no.

But from hereon out, I’m going to believe it.

(And now I’m going to go watch The Emperor’s New Groove.)

Sunny

May 14, 2015 § Leave a comment

It’s 1 am on May 14th, and I can’t sleep.

I am floating. Celebrating. Rejoicing.

Tonight (technically it was yesterday, I suppose), at 9:20 pm, I watched this precious baby girl come into the world.

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We didn’t think it was going to happen then. In fact, around 8 I was preparing to get some sleep before midnight, which is when I thought the labor would start.

IMG_5792I want to quickly jolt down what is fresh in my memory before I force myself to sleep.

I left the ranch this morning at 11:30 and was back by 2:30. I set up camp in the trailer our ranch worker kindly put outside Rain’s stall in the breezeway and settled in for a long night. Around 6 I went and got a pizza for Jim and I but every other moment, I was waiting.

Around 8 or 8:15, when the ranch was dark and all the other horses still, I heard Rain pawing and groaning in her stall. Every five minutes I’d get out of my little bed to try to check on the momma. We had the baby cam, but about half the time it doesn’t work and won’t connect, and tonight was no exception. Every time she saw me she’d stop.

So rather than having her see me and get scared during the early stages of labor, I changed tacts and tried to watch her on my iPad using the baby cam app but that didn’t work out. So a little before 9 pm, after hearing her pawing and groaning for almost an hour, I went into the house where Jim was watching her on the one monitor we have that’s hooked up to the camera and actually works.

“She’s really restless,” I said as I walked in. Then I looked at the monitor. “She just went down!”

“Yeah, she’s been doing that for a while. Let’s stay in the house a while – right before is the time she needs to be alone.”

We pulled up chairs and watched. I called Bre, our ranch manager, and told her to book it down to the ranch. My mom called and asked how everything was going, and right as I started to answer that Rain was down and seemingly groaning, Jim jumped and pointed. A hoof. A foal hoof.

We both ran out to the stall – me abruptly hanging up on my mom (sorry, Mom!) and Jim flipping on the barn lights – and saw Rain on the ground, sides heaving. She stood up once and flopped the other way, groaning quietly. The hoof we’d seen on the monitor was still peaking out.

There I was thinking we were in the early stages of labor, that it would be another few hours before any real action happened.

And then.

Then.

There came the head.

There it was.

I gasped when I saw it – it absolutely knocked the wind out of me. Jim grabbed my hand as we watched it slowing, steadily sliding out, wrapped delicately in its milky sac. We stood there watching Rain in complete and total awe as she pushed and pushed and pushed until that tiny, perfect little head was followed by its tiny, perfect little body. Then that body met the earth and Rain groaned again and lay her head down and rested and that little body lay quivering in the straw.

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Out of nowhere.

Out of nothing.

There that baby was.

There she was.

Mere minutes after we’d run out of the house to make sure everything was okay.

After so much waiting. After so much excitement and anticipation.

There she was.

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I didn’t think to even touch my camera for a few minutes. I was in absolute shock. Not only at the abruptness of it all… but the indescribable, calm, natural beauty of the birth.

That little girl nibbled at the sac, the straw, the air within moments. Her nose quivered as she took her very first breaths.

Watching her attempt to take her first steps was unbelievable. Such a tiny, helpless little thing not even in the world an hour ago, to be thrusting herself upwards attempting to walk. I simply have no words.

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I have no words for the moment I touched her soft, soft neck and she looked at me with liquid brown eyes.

I have no words for the gentle – gentle – nickers Rain gave her baby as she encouraged her to suckle.

I have no words for the way that sweet little filly finally stood on her own and jumped, kicked, and bucked with the pure joy of being alive.

I never understood why everyone called it “the miracle of life”. To me, being born was the most ordinary thing in the world. Just another event that occurred on a daily basis.

I see now.

Our Sunny is a miracle.

As I watched her in amazement tonight, the song “With Arms Wide Open” kept playing in my head.

And to me, the words are perfect.

I sang them to little Sunny before I left at midnight. I will sing them to her for the rest of her life.

With arms wide open

Under the sunlight

Welcome to this place

I’ll show you everything

With arms wide open

Now everything has changed

I’ll show you love

I’ll show you everything

With arms wide open.

Oh, sweet girl.

Welcome to the world.

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I’m Free!

May 10, 2015 § Leave a comment

My first semester of grad school officially ended last night after I submitted my last final. And so for the first time since mid-January, I woke up on a Sunday morning (after sleeping in till nearly 7), got out of bed, made breakfast, then sat down and tried to decide what I wanted to do. After four months, I didn’t have to worry about homework.

It. Was. Glorious. It still is.

I finally decided to watch The Nanny (my favorite show – no judging) while OD-ing on Pinterest. Such mindless contentment. It was amazing.

Summer classes begin for me on June 1st, and until then, I have three leisurely weeks to do nothing other than work and wait for our pregnant mare to have her baby. My biggest plan is to de-clutter my apartment, as per my KonMari Method project that I said I was going to start then didn’t because life happened.

Hopefully I’ll have something interesting and noteworthy to post about during these next three weeks! In the meantime, friends and family, let’s meet up now that I have some free time so I can prove I’m still alive. 😉

I’m freeee!

Baby Watch

April 27, 2015 § Leave a comment

For those of you following along on my Facebook and Instagram accounts, you know that we saved a pregnant mare from slaughter two and a half months ago at my ranch. We have been eagerly anticipating the arrival of her foal for ten long weeks, and now – as of April 27th at 9 pm – we think we are mere days away.

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Rain: April 24, 2015

I can’t even describe what I’m feeling now.

I didn’t go through an excitement phase when we first got her. I don’t think most of us at the ranch did. When I found out about the mare – Rain – she was 36 hours away from slaughter. The owner of the ranch and I were so scared for her and desperate to get her out of the hands of her kill buyer that honestly, when we brought her through the gates, I couldn’t be excited for the new beginning we were going to witness. All I felt was relief. Baby? I constantly wondered as I’d look up and see her eating contentedly in her stall. What baby? All I could think about for a long time was how close we’d come to not being able to save her.

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Rain, the day we brought her home: February 13, 2015.

The vet came out to examine Rain a few days after we got her and said she hoped she wasn’t pregnant, as we had been told, on the grounds that Rain was too skinny. After an examination, however, the vet confirmed she was. I and one of the volunteers that had stayed for the visit actually jumped up and down and shrieked. But again – all I really felt in place of happy anticipation was relief.

Vet visit

Vet visit

Over the past few weeks, Rain gained a lot – a LOT – of weight. Soon it became pretty obvious that she was eating for two. Not to mention, she sure got comfortable in her new home considering she’s learned to yell at anyone passing for food!

A few weeks ago we had our former vet and one of our dearest friends come out to visit. He kindly looked over Rain for us and gave us more information about newborn foals and advice about what needs to be done when he/she gets here than we could have ever thought we needed. I took notes about what to do with the placenta, how to make sure the baby passes meconium and what to do if he/she doesn’t, and the type of Chlorhexidine we need to dip the baby’s navel.

And these past few days? I swear Rain got bigger whenever I turned around.

Rain: April 24, 2015

Rain: April 24, 2015

Last week we set up our baby camera that connects to our smartphones and tablets via a free app (head over to the Tierra Madre Horse Sanctuary Facebook page if you want to access it, too!). The three of us that will be present for the birth (the owner, the other ranch manager, and me) are taking shifts waking up in the night to check the camera to see if anything’s happened since most mares give birth in the middle of the night.

Tonight I packed a little bag with a change of clothes and some food that I can grab at a moment’s notice and run to my car with should I get a call in the middle of the night or see something happening on the camera myself.

And now – finally – as I watch Rain on my iPad and look at the alarms on my phone for me to wake up and check the camera and look over to my packed bag, the excitement is kicking in.

Rain: April 24, 2015

Rain: April 24, 2015

In the last few days Rain’s udder has swollen up and the baby has really started to move downward. The time is coming soon.

I’ve felt that baby move around inside her for such a long time that it never really sunk in that he or she was eventually going to come out and join the world. I don’t think it will really sink in until I see that baby for the first time with my own eyes. But for now, I am finally feeling the excitement. It’s amazing how much we all already love this precious little foal, and we haven’t met him or her yet.

Rain has done an amazing job carrying this baby and I am in awe of her. I am in awe of her strength and her grace and the fact that she walked onto our ranch a miserable mare and has turned into the happiest, sweetest, most gentle spirit in the world. Her baby has no idea how lucky he/she is.

Hurry on out, little girl/guy. The world awaits you.

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Rain and I: February 2015

Head Over Heels

November 12, 2014 § 1 Comment

[tldr version is at the end of this blogpost]

(I listened to this song today, hence the title of my blogpost. I think it’s appropriate here, honestly.)

 ~

Okay. So several months ago I wrote a rather depressing post about how life as a college graduate sucked. To recap, I complained wrote about how I couldn’t find a job, how no one seems to be hiring recent sustainability grads, and how anxious I was to be out in the real world. I wrote about how hard it was to stay positive.

Well, that was towards the end of June. I couldn’t sit around and dwell on those thoughts, so I distracted myself instead. I filled my days, and so these past six months have been a whirlwind: a happy, exciting, sometimes stressful, always crazy whirlwind.

Since my last post I:

  • volunteered like crazy at Tierra Madre Horse Sanctuary
  • went back to Hallmark to work part-time
  • applied for jobs
  • got published
  • signed a lease with my boyfriend at an apartment in Ahwatukee
  • applied for jobs
  • moved all my stuff over to said apartment in Ahwatukee
  • went to several interviews
  • got 6 job rejections so that I lived at my mom’s house in Glendale all summer (P.S. the 40 minute drive to see my boyfriend every few days was no bueno)
  • worked for my dad as a social media manager for his website
  • applied for jobs
  • went to a good friend’s wedding
  • wrote curriculum for and helped to launch the nonprofit SmartRoots Global
  • tested several lessons at Homeward Bound
  • applied for jobs
  • turned 23
  • FINALLY got a job as ranch manager at Tierra Madre Horse Sanctuary
  • FINALLY moved to Ahwatukee with my boyfriend

I also applied for jobs over the last few months.

Let me tell you, reader: if there is a more soul crushing, devastatingly painful thing to do in life other than try to be something you’re not in order to get people to like you and hire you so that you can spend your days in a cubicle doing work you don’t care about, I don’t know what is. But that’s what I did.

Well, the long story short of that brainwave is that I did get a full time job after waiting for so long, the perfect job that I think was meant for me all along.

But that’s a post for another day.

This post is to make an announcement to my friends and family, friends and family I’ve neglected lately since I’ve been so busy with three jobs (two part-time and one full time). Perhaps this is an apology of sorts to you guys as well, because as you’re about to read, my life is about to get even crazier.

I guess all I have to say about this decision that I made is that, surprisingly, not a whole lot of thinking went into it. I mean, I thought about it a lot. But my reasoning behind doing what I’ve done is not complicated at all.

On September 26th, two days after my 23rd birthday, something in my brain snapped. Snapped, I tell you. Since this was before I became ranch manager at Tierra Madre Horse Sanctuary, on that day I was scouting out jobs on my good friend Google.com and was typing in just about every variation of the phrase that would capture my interests:

“sustainability jobs in….”

“sustainability education jobs in…”

“education jobs in…”

“environmental jobs in…”

“environmental education jobs in…”

Jobs in Arizona. Jobs in Washington, D.C. Jobs in California. Washington state. Oregon. Massachusetts. New York. I even looked in London, if only because I’m dying to go back. I looked for jobs everywhere and I qualified for nothing. The few jobs for which I did qualify, I sent out applications and received brisk email responses informing me that I “lacked experience”.

On September 26th I sat staring at my computer screen and thought…. Is this what I’m destined to see for the rest of my life? Email after email telling me I’m not good enough?

Once that thought entered my head, I started asking myself a lot of other questions. Why is my $20,000 bachelor’s degree useless? Why does no one want to give me a chance? Is this even the field I want to be in? What do I want to do in life? What do I want to DO?

Make your announcement already, Alexis, you say. I’m getting there. I think you see where I’m going.

Anyway, I spent all summer asking myself what I really wanted to do, and another post for another day is how the horses at Tierra Madre Horse Sanctuary guided me towards the answer to that particular question. There’s no lying with them, no barriers to hide behind and no denying what is truth. And as I spent this summer with them – and in fact, as I currently spend every single day with them – they led me to my conclusion that prompted my decision:

Later in my life (I’m having fun working with horses and helping to built up a nonprofit right now), I want to help fix the education system in this country. After writing curriculum for SmartRoots Global, I realized I want to continue doing so, but I want to add sustainability initiatives at the K-12 level. I want to study education policy and figure out what works and what doesn’t. I want to help teachers teach. I want to give kids a chance.

I want to go back to school. I want to keep learning. I want to give myself a better chance in the battlefield that is establishing a career in my early 20s.

Oh, I sure as hell won’t make a career for myself the way everyone wants me to, by starting small and quietly making my way up the ladder that is the unwritten hierarchy of business.

No, I want to make my own path. And starting in the spring of 2015, that’s exactly what I’m going to do.

[Tldr version starts here]

And so, I am very excited to announce that I will be starting my master’s degree in Educational Leadership with an emphasis in Instructional Leadership at Northern Arizona University (Online) in January!

I told my boyfriend the minute I found out I was accepted. I said, “I am officially going to be a grad student!”

He said, “You are officially insane.”

Yes, yes I am.

But as I said before, I have no idea what’s going to happen in the future. And that, my friends, is half the fun.

These Last Few Weeks

June 25, 2014 § Leave a comment

I write this because writing heals my heart and because I hope that through being honest, I can reach out to other recent college graduates that might connect with what I have to say.

Looking back, I’m not sure what I expected in the weeks following my college graduation, but whatever I might have anticipated, it sure wasn’t this.

Life after college was supposed to be different. It was supposed to be enlightening and thrilling and exciting and only a little bit scary. I guess somewhere in the back of my head I thought the weeks following my college graduation would be a calm, peaceful transition into the real world. Just like all my other summers were a chance for me to get a feel for adulthood, the weeks that followed my anticipated walk across the stage to get my diploma were supposed to ease me into reality.

Oh, how the universe must have laughed its fool head off at this grand idea of mine, because these last few weeks have been unbearable.

I wasn’t expecting such acute depression and unbearable anxiety to follow receiving my degree at last. I knew I would have to apply for jobs, but no one ever told me how applying for jobs for which you qualify fresh out of college absolutely crushes your soul. No one ever told me how tweaking resumes to fit companies’ requirements or typing up the perfect combination of words to express interest would make you feel so empty and impassive. And soul-crushing job hunting may be, but what hurts even more is to pour your blood, sweat, and tears into applications and interviews only to get a cold email response stating someone else had been selected for the position, or, even worse, no response at all.

True story. Mere days after my graduation I had a phone interview (two phone interviews, actually) with my dream company, and I do mean my dream company. It was in Washington D.C. and I feel that both interviews went so, so well. I was told to expect a response within one to two weeks.

Nothing ever came.

I finally called after three weeks to inquire about the position and my results and got a voicemail. I left a message, asking the interviewers to please return my call at their earliest convenience.

I left them that voicemail nearly two weeks ago. And still I got nothing.

And after spending the better part of a year learning as much as I could about the company and inquiring about positions and asking for advice from personnel there about applying for jobs and studying for an exam for four months that would give me a better shot of working for them some day… that hurt. Oh, how I wasn’t expecting that kind of pain.

Another thing I wasn’t expecting? I wasn’t expecting to suddenly hate, no, loathe living at home. I wasn’t expecting to want to be an adult but get so frustrated when financially, I just can’t yet.

Maybe soon, but not yet. More on that in later blogposts.

And I wasn’t expecting to suddenly have no income to pay for the most basic of expenses. If there’s anything more painful in the post-grad world than applying for jobs and getting denied said jobs, it is not having enough funds to buy things that you need, let alone want.

Needless to say, these past few weeks I’ve felt weighed down by my own fears and nerves and sadness and doubts – doubts in the world I’m living in where it is close to impossible to get a decent job upon graduation and doubts in myself and my skills and my qualifications. I have quite honestly felt heavy. Like someone dropped weights into my chest.

I’ve wanted to talk to no one. I’ve wanted nothing more than to just get in my car with my kitty and just drive away into the sunset and never look back.

In college we are always told to follow our dreams and to do whatever makes us happy and that we were free to do what we wanted and that the world is our oyster.

No one ever told me how that is a bunch of crap.

I can’t follow my dreams. I have student loan debt to face.

I can’t do what makes me happy. Right now what makes me happy doesn’t make me any money.

I am not free to do whatever I want. I have bills to pay.

The world is not my oyster. The world is an unforgiving place where those without a paycheck can do nothing and have nothing and are nothing.

So here I am now, fighting steadily out of this trench into which I have fallen, trying to see the light in my situation and hope for the best. I’m not out of it yet. I don’t know if I’ll climb out of it tomorrow or when I get a job or move out into my own apartment at long last or am finally financially independent or get my dream job.

I don’t know.

But to try to end this on a decently positive note, I have spent the past few weeks working on a few projects that are making me happy, if only for a few hours an afternoon when I work on them. I’d rather not announce them now. But you, dear anonymous reader of mine, will hear about them soon if you choose to stick around.

Regardless, these past few weeks have been an awful, rude awakening. And I hope know I can’t be the only one going through this.

Reality sucks. These weights aren’t going anywhere anytime soon.

What I Learned From Failing the LEED Green Associate Exam. Twice.

June 10, 2014 § 1 Comment

I have kind of kept it on the down low on social media, but it’s no secret that I spent the months of February, March, April, and May studying for the LEED Green Associate exam.

Before I go any further, let me explain what that is to those of you who might not know.

There is an organization centered in Washington D.C. called the U.S. Green Building Council. The USGBC’s mission is to transform the way the country (and, in fact, the world) thinks about building development, construction, and maintenance by promoting and teaching about sustainable practices. They develop what is called the LEED Rating System, LEED standing for Leadership and Energy in Environmental Design. This system is a checklist of sorts by which designers can abide during construction in order to create a building that uses less energy, is located on a sustainable site, built with regional and feasible materials, uses water efficiently, and much more.

Last year on my study abroad trip, I got to visit the USGBC headquarters where I discovered their Center for Green Schools, an organization that is dedicated to building green school buildings for children. I fell in love. I am a huge proponent of sustainability education, and here this Center was teaching children about sustainability through transforming their surroundings. Since we spend 90% of our days indoors, what greater way to educate children about sustainability than to show them firsthand what sustainable surroundings look like? And on that brainwave, what better way to teach communities, states, and nations what sustainability is through building structures?

Now, within the U.S. Green Building Council and its counterpart that enforces the LEED Rating System, the Green Building Certification Institute, there are three different accreditations people can earn in order to become qualified to help with LEED construction projects and/or have a good chance of working for the USGBC someday. They are: the LEED Fellow, the LEED Accredited Professional, and the first test anyone would have to pass to obtain accreditation of any kind: the LEED Green Associate.

When I heard about a chance to attend a free workshop that would help me pass the LEED Green Associate exam, I jumped at the opportunity. I filled out a scholarship application for a free spot in the workshop and got up at the crack of dawn to be one of the first to submit it. I got it and attended the eight-hour workshop in the middle of February then bought five practice tests (read: 500 questions) to help me study. I studied an hour a day at a minimum until May 10th, the day I had scheduled to take the exam. I made flashcards, wrote out information repeatedly to help me remember the content, took every practice test I could get my hands on, and all but gave up my sanity during my last semester of college to study for the exam.

I pinned much of my future career on that exam. And after all my hard work, after pouring my blood, sweat and tears into studying during the hardest school semester of my life, I failed by one question on May 10th. The exam is 100 questions, all taken out of a 1,000 question database. In order to pass, one needs to get 85 correct. Because some of the questions are weighed a little differently, I scored the equivalent of an 84.

Disappointment does not even begin to cover what I felt upon seeing my score on that computer screen. I sobbed hysterically cried bitterly most of that day.

Because I had only failed by one question, I resolved to try again and scheduled another exam for the 28th of May, just short of three weeks after the first. Because it had cost me an arm, a leg, and my firstborn to schedule the LEED Green Associate exam the first time, my parents were kind enough to buy my second exam and a study guide I hadn’t had my first time around. I spent the two and a half weeks after my college graduation studying for the LEED Green Associate exam. Again. All day every day.

The 28th came around as quickly as the 10th had before. And I sat through the test for the second time that morning, working steadily through the 100 questions and doing my best despite several unclear problems I faced.

And then, as I was irritably staring at an impossible question to which there was more than one correct answer, a thought struck me with the force of a lightning bolt:

The test does not, can not, accurately sum up everything I have learned in the past four months.

I blinked and let that thought sink in for a moment or two.

I had learned so much since February all on my own. I knew more about the LEED certification system than most people in the country. I knew how to make a building more sustainable and I knew the steps to beginning a project and I knew what it took to see it through.

I knew how to educate people about sustainability through transforming their homes, their neighborhoods, existing buildings of all kinds, and new buildings. I knew about the design process and the construction process and the commissioning process and the lessened impact a LEED certified building would have on the environment once it was completed.

I had failed the LEED Green Associate exam by one question last time. To the world, did that really mean that I must know nothing when in fact I had spent at least 50 hours studying the material?

I was gripped with all kinds of other thoughts after that first one. What if I passed this exam and it got me a job I hated? What if I found out that sustainable building construction was not something I wanted to do if I were to get a job in that field someday? What if by passing the exam I would launch myself into a world I didn’t care for but could not escape?

Now, I am not religious by any means, but I do happen to be spiritual. And while I don’t know exactly what kind of divine energy is up there and am perfectly fine with not knowing, I do believe everything happens for a reason.

And so as I finished the exam and my mouse hovered over the submit tab on that computer, I closed my eyes and silently said the prayer I have repeated nearly every day for years.

Whatever needs to happen, please make it happen.

I clicked.

The first time I took that exam, I failed by one question. The second time, I failed by two.

And the first time I failed the exam, I cried. The second time I failed, I closed my eyes, took a deep breath and accepted it with all the grace I could muster.

As I walked out of the testing center in Downtown Phoenix and indeed as I sit here typing this, a recent college graduate with no plans, no job, and no prospects, I came to realize many different things:

I am okay with having my life unplanned.

I am okay with not knowing what is in store for me.

I am okay with not knowing what job I’m going to take in the next few weeks or months or years.

I am okay with not having a prestigious job lined up the instant I got out of school.

I am okay with working retail or other less than glamorous jobs in order to get by while I work on projects that I love.

I am okay with disappointment.

I am okay with failure.

Because in the end, I know I’m only 22 and have so much of life ahead of me. There’s no possible way for me to know what’s coming, but whatever happens will happen for a reason.

And I’m okay with not knowing that reason.

So. Am I still disappointed over failing the LEED Green Associate exam twice? Absolutely.

But on the day I failed the second time, I saw this:

79547245dce9b8144127115ed0d23bb0I may be pulled back now, but only because something great is going to happen in the future.

What will that great thing be? Will it involve the USGBC? Will I ever take the exam again?

I have no idea.

And that’s half the fun.

Life as a College Graduate…

May 22, 2014 § Leave a comment

…sucks.

No, really.

From the time I was five years old, my internal calendar has always revolved around the school year. Normal people consider January the start of the new year and December its end. For me, that beginning started in August, when school started, and ended in May to the tune of this awesome song:

The summer was always a time of celebration of the fact that I didn’t have to face the real world yet. It was a time to relax (when I wasn’t working) and rejoice in all the little things that kept me connected to my childhood.

And now? My internal calendar by which I’ve lived my entire life is thrown off, my leisurely summers are history, and I am expected to be a grown up.

Ever since my graduation day, I’ve gone through too many emotions to be considered a rational human being.

I’ve been a combination of this:

and this:

and I especially feel like this:

because let’s not forget this:

And for those who ask if I have a job yet?

I remind them that nowadays, the battle to get into the workforce is something close to this:

Needless to say, it hasn’t been two weeks since graduation and I’m already doing a whole lot of this:

Now, granted, I know I have it better than others. The day after graduation, I got a call from my dream company asking to set up a phone interview for that Friday for a temporary position. Whether or not I actually get the job (and it’s a long shot that I do), some people aren’t so lucky. I know people who have applied for fifty, sixty jobs and haven’t heard back from any of them. So far, I’ve only applied to four.

But this anxiety I’ve been feeling since the 13th has struck me with full force. The depression of being done with school for the foreseeable future has deepened significantly. And finally having to admit that I’m adult now sucks – no matter how many rude, chipper people there are who find it their duty to tell me (and other college grads) how we’re all still babies and are so lucky to have our whole lives ahead of us.

They conveniently forget that college grads these days have five figures of student debt, next to no chance of gaining jobs in their fields right away due to the recession, and that the cost of living is waaaaay higher than it was 30 years ago. And the minimum wage? Laughable.

Jenna speaks my language.

This post got bitter really quickly.

I guess all I’m trying to say is that if there are any other recent college grads out there who are going through any of the above, you’re not alone. Heck, you could have graduated ten years ago and still be going through this. It sucks. And I feel your pain on so many levels.

But as I wrote in my last blogpost, I learned in college that only the strong survive this world and that the ones who succeed are the ones that never give up.

We can’t give up.

As down and out as I feel right now, I certainly don’t plan to.

Life as a college graduate sucks, but I keep telling myself it won’t always be that way.

Because after all, as much as I don’t believe it right now,

Dear Diploma

May 13, 2014 § 2 Comments

Dear Diploma,

My mom says that on my very first day of school, I cheerfully told her goodbye and walked into the building, eager to learn and happy to be there. She says that while a few kids were crying and most were unwilling to go in, I didn’t look back.

Now, on my very last day of school, I am ready to walk into another building and across a stage to receive you after seventeen years’ worth of hard work.

All my life I have been anticipating this day. As a little girl, I was told every day in school to go to college and learn new things and get a formal education and create memories and make mistakes and learn from them and ultimately discover where my passion lies. This is what we are all told as we stumble through elementary, middle, and eventually high school.

We are not told two things about college:

First, we aren’t told how hard the journey is. We aren’t told how insanely difficult it is to get through college and emerge as intact human beings. When I look back at what I went through to earn you, diploma, I am amazed at my ability – and the ability of students everywhere – to make sacrifices.

Diploma, I worked for you while volunteering and holding down full time and part time jobs. I worked for you while going through some serious physiological and emotional trauma. I worked for you while battling an illness that lasted the better part of a year. I worked for you while studying for the LEED Green Associate exam – which, diploma, I took last Saturday and failed by one question. I needed 85 out of 100 questions to pass. After at least 40 hours of studying that I took on on top of going through my very last semester of college, I got 84.

Needless to say, sometimes I worked for you while feeling like an enormous failure.

I dragged myself to classes for you through sickness, emotional distress, and physical pain. I forced myself out of bed in the dead of winter and drove 45 minutes to class in the early mornings before the sun was even up for you. I walked miles around campus in 30-degree weather for you and I did the same when it was 115. I was back in class five days after getting my wisdom teeth taken out. I couldn’t take painkillers to go to class, but I went to class anyway.

I endured semesters of light-rail travel to save on parking fees, which is to say I endured some of the creepiest and horniest people I have ever had to deal with. And when that got to be too much, I grit my teeth only slightly as I handed over my credit card to the parking services people on campus as I paid something close to a million dollars for my daily parking fee. Only slightly.

I lived on a shoestring budget for you. There were times when my life consisted of peanut butter crackers and frozen meals in order to pay for textbooks for you. Once I paid for gas in quarters.

I know what going to bed hungry feels like. I know what not having enough money to survive feels like.

Diploma, throughout these four years, I think it’s safe to say that approximately 30,000 gallons of coffee have been drunk in your honor. Throughout these four years, I ran to QT for more soda and energy drinks than I care to think about. On the days when I had too much to do, I sacrificed exercise for you and drank wine at night to make myself fall asleep. I’m convinced my blood is now composed entirely of a combination of caffeine and alcohol, and speaking of health, I’m pretty sure I did permanent damage to my back from shouldering a backpack with the weight of an average child every day.

I cried over you.

I stayed on campus all day for years. I spent hours in the library to study for classes I hated but had to take. I wrote discussion board posts, essays, and homework assignments. I took quizzes, studied for exams, and did group projects. I read. The amount of textbooks I’ve had to read is unreal. (The amount of textbooks I actually did read is slightly less unreal.)

I had breakdown after breakdown over you from having to sacrifice so much. My social life, my health, my sanity…. And speaking of sanity, let me tell you a little bit about sleep. Oh, how I scarified sleep. I scarified sleep like it was a hobby, like it was going out of style. I sacrificed sleep for my degree like the men and women in the Old Testament scarified rams and goats for the Lord. The sad thing is, I do not feel like that is an overstatement. They say the average person sleeps about a third of their life away. Thanks to you, diploma, I think I have successfully cut that proportion to about an eighth.

There were times, diploma, when I forgot how to be someone other than a stressed-out college student. Honestly, I’m having a hard time thinking of myself as anything but just that.

But now that it’s all over and I am about to walk across a stage and get you at last, I realize how valuable those years as a stressed-out college student were. Because the second thing that we aren’t told about college as kids is that during the four years we spend earning our diplomas, the lessons we learn outside the classroom are more numerous in number and much, much richer in quality.

Through earning you, diploma, I have learned the importance of differentiating between wants and needs. New clothes? New shoes? Getting my hair done? Those all came second to tuition, gas, textbooks, food, and my other bills. Through earning you, I have learned how to balance work and school so I could pay for those things. I have learned how to budget, how to save, and how important it is to pay credit card payments on time.

I have learned how to conquer anxiety.

I have learned that some things are out of my control but that I can do anything that is within my own capabilities. And after these four years, the things that are within my own capabilities are incredible.

I have learned that life cannot be lived when I’m too busy looking back over my shoulder at what I’m leaving behind. Opportunity comes when I look for it, for a new chapter can’t be read when I am too busy re-reading the last one.

Through working for you, diploma, I have learned that only the strong survive this world and the ones that never give up are the ones that succeed. I have learned that I am, in fact, one ordinary person living on a planet filled with billions of other ordinary people, but that what will set me apart from everyone else is how hard I am willing to work for what I want. I have learned that armed with my resolve and with the knowledge I have gained, I cannot fix everything, but I do have the power to change one little corner of the world.

Maybe the biggest thing I did while in college was both a sacrifice and a pretty awesome accomplishment. Through earning you, diploma, I learned how to grow up.

Diploma, I value you not because you automatically secure me a job (you don’t) or because you will be able to convey exactly what I have learned in college to employers (you won’t), but because you are the sum of my hopes and my triumphs over some of life’s battles. You represent the challenges I have faced and the determination I had to see me through them. You represent the barriers I have overcome and the lessons I have learned both inside the classroom and out. You represent the things I’ve learned about the rest of the world and the things I have learned about myself.

Through earning you I have discovered the limits of my inner strength, and through earning you I have defied them.

For all the blood, sweat, and tears I have surrendered, for all the breakdowns I’ve had and the sanity I’ve lost, the triumph of earning you at last surpasses absolutely everything.

And the lessons I have learned are forever.

Diploma, seventeen years ago I walked into kindergarten ready to take on whatever was thrown my way. Now, I’m ready to walk into the rest of my life, and thanks to you, I’m still ready to take on whatever the world decides to give to me.

And just like that first day of school, I don’t plan on looking back.

~ Alexis

May 13, 2014

Where Am I?

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